By JOHN BINDER
Tammany West News
COVINGTON – The St. Tammany Parish School Board voted 9-0 to fire bus driver Robert Hesson after charges by Superintendent Trey Folse claiming Hesson had not reported two drug-related arrests to the school system in 2011, and was therefore guilty of willful neglect.
Since the board’s decision, Hesson’s attorney Charles Branton said the board came to a verdict before the tenure hearing ended.
“From comments that they made prior to rendering their ruling, they had made up their mind,” said Branton.
A total of four charges were made against Hesson by the school administration, accusing the bus driver of breaching the collective bargaining agreement because he did not report previous arrests. Hesson was arrested in Mississippi, where police found him in possession of crystal amphetamine, and in St. Tammany Parish for possession of oxycodone.
Branton said Hesson was not in violation of the agreement because he was not reporting for regular duty at the time of the arrests. Hesson was also charged with failing to alert the administration of a court proceeding, failing to report a guilty plea and refusal to provide pharmacy records.
According to Branton, the school administration asked for pharmacy records verbally, rather than in writing, and later admitted they have no policy requiring employees turn them over.
“What they did in essence is convict my client of willful neglect for a policy that doesn’t exist,” said Branton. “To take it to an illogical extreme, any school employee can be asked almost anything verbally with no documentation and if they don’t immediately give it, they could lose their job.”
The attorney said the school board does not understand the contract because Hesson was on extended sick leave after the guilty plea, thus not on regular duty.
Because both arrests were made in the summer of 2011, Branton said the school board ignored the language of their own contract which states states, “Any employee cited or arrested for DWI or DUI, or for any violation of a criminal statute or ordinance, save and except for citation or arrest for a routine traffic violation, shall report the citation or arrest to his supervisor prior to assuming regular duty.”
Board members questioned Hesson during the last hearing and made clear to him that although he was not on regular duty at the time of his arrests, he was still an employee of the school system and consequently must adhere to the system’s contract.
Branton will be discussing with his client if an appeal in 22nd Judicial District Court, which is the only option the law allows for, is their next step.
Harry Pastuszek Jr., representing the school system, and superintendent, did not respond to comment requests.